You can't help but love Darnell McDonald.
The former first round draft pick has had an up-and-down career. And, unless you're that one super-fan of the 2009 Cincinnati Reds, you probably never heard of him before 2010 -- the year he came out of nowhere.
The night he became a cult hero was April 20. McDonald was called up that day from Triple-A Pawtucket and was ready to go if the Sox needed him. At that time, the Sox were 4-9 and Sox fans were finding the closest bridge with a view. (Hey, it's what we do.)
Down 6-4 in the bottom of the eighth against the Rangers, McDonald steps to bat for Josh Reddick. What's he do? Why, he does what every storybook ending calls for and hits a home run. Tie ballgame.
That alone made Sox fans love him. But he wanted Sox fans to remember him, so he came back out in the bottom of the ninth and hit the game-winning single to center field.
Finally, the Sox are off the schnide and the D-Mac cult has started to accept applications.
But baseball, especially for the Boston Red Sox, is a sport about now and the future. What have you done for me now? I don't care what you did for me yesterday, because I am not paying for yesterday.
Throw the love for McDonald out the window, because this spring training and the 2010 season has no room for love.
McDonald is a great story and, by all accounts, a great guy. But does he fit in the system? With Carl Crawford, J.D. Drew and Jacoby Ellsbury manning the day-to-day outfield duties and Mike Cameron the man on the bench, does McDonald have a home in Boston?
If Cameron is healthy, it seems as if the answer is no. But McDonald does have some things working for him. The best thing, perhaps, is the fact he has nothing more to learn. He gains nothing by playing in Pawtucket. He's been down that road and he's played in all those ballparks. "Seasoning" is long out the window for the 32 year old.
Who needs seasoning? Ryan Kalish, Josh Reddick and Daniel Nava, just to name a few. They would benefit from being in Pawtucket. McDonald is much more valuable to the Red Sox on the bench as a fifth outfielder than any of those three. It's sort of sad to say this, but: the Sox would rather see McDonald rot on the bench than any of those three.
But of course, "rot" is an ugly word. McDonald wouldn't rot; he would just play sparingly. Be a pinch-runner and get some at-bats, maybe play some defense. The Red Sox don't want Kalish sitting on the bench 95 percent of the time. McDonald, though? Sure. He'd much rather do that than ride the minor league bus anyway.
Baseball works in a funny way: if Crawford, Drew or Ellsbury were to get hurt and miss time, Cameron would become a starter most likely. But if it wasn't Cameron, it wouldn't be the fifth outfielder McDonald. It'd be Kalish or Nava or Reddick or whatever young prospect. That's how it works: the youngsters can stay in the minors until they're needed to play every day in the bigs. They don't sit on the bench and get rusty. That's the job for the 32-year-old journeyman.
McDonald's future is with the Sox, but it seems that future is limited. He'll sit on the bench and watch the other veterans play, while getting passed by the youngsters on their way up. That's how things work out for guys like him. It's not a glamorous job, but it's a job McDonald will take -- and probably be very good at.
Besides, he already has his cult status anyway.
DAMON GIVES PROPS
One thing I always liked about Johnny Damon is that he always seemed to tell the truth. He never really minced words, it seemed. He also liked to run with cars on the highway -- that's another reason I liked Johnny Damon.
So it's nice to see that Damon, even as a Ray, gives honest opinions about his in-division foes:
"Well, shoot, the Red Sox on paper, wow. That's a dream team," he said. "You have all-stars all over the board there. A very good pitching staff. They're tough."
Wow is right. It seems like an eternity ago, but remember when the Red Sox claimed Damon off waivers last year and he refused to come back to Boston? He wanted to stay in Detroit because, it seemed, he thought his team had a shot at winning.
Looking back at it now, it's all pretty foolish, huh?
Enjoy Tampa Bay, Johnny.
JCL MAY BE A-OK
A friend of mine asked me on Twitter what my thoughts were on Red Sox prospect Juan Carlos Linares. My initial reaction was simple: a 26-year-old in Double-A ball is never really a good thing.
Apparently, though, JCL is a hitter. He "rakes," according to a scout quoted in a November Boston Globe blog entry.
He defected from Cuba and has been with the Sox since the summer. He really caught people's attention in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .397/.423/.662 in 68 at-bats.
Those are nice numbers, but it's only 68 at-bats. I think David Wells has a chance of hitting .397 in 68 at-bats in the AFL.
Now, JCL is having a nice spring: a home run and a couple of doubles in 15 at-bats. Nice, but we're still only talking 83 at-bats of success. Before that, he hit .239 in 46 at-bats with Portland last year.
While JCL seems to be a decent hitter, he's going to need to do it for an extended period of time before he should win anyone over. Also, he's going to need to learn how to be patient, because you can't get far with the Red Sox if you don't take a walk every once in a while.
With that said, he's a good story and he'll be a fun "prospect" (which you really can't call him that, since he's 26) to watch this season.